Eco-Friendly Flooring: Green From the Ground Up

from Mother Earth news

Give your floors a sustainable upgrade with these eco-friendly flooring options.

The following is an excerpt from Green From the Ground Up by David Johnston and Scott Gibson (Taunton Press, 2008). Begin with eco-friendly flooring, and move through this detailed guide for sustainable, healthy and energy-efficient home construction. This excerpt comes from Chapter 15, “Interior Finishes.”

There is a wide variety of eco-friendly flooring in the marketplace today. What makes flooring green? Here, many factors come together: durability, non-toxicity, renewable sourcing and transportation. The challenge is to determine which of these qualities are most important and how they reflect aesthetically. No product has everything, so it often amounts to comparing apples to oranges and making what seems like the best eco-friendly flooring choice.

Two general considerations for green flooring are its thermal mass and its compatibility with radiant-floor heat, if that’s the kind of heating system you have. Some sustainable flooring options, such as ceramic tile or concrete, are also good heat conductors, making them smart choices over radiant floors. Their thermal mass, higher than that of wood, complements passive solar design. Other products, such as certain kinds of wood, may not be appropriate for radiant-floor systems because of the risk of warping or splitting. Ask your supplier for the manufacturer’s recommendation before installing any of the following eco-friendly flooring options.

Finished Concrete Floors

When used as the finish floor, concrete containing high fly-ash content serves several as a multipurpose green flooring option. For one, it saves the expense of installing another flooring material, like wood or carpet. It also makes use of an industrial by-product, a decided eco-friendly flooring advantage. And concrete, unlike carpet, doesn’t harbor allergens, dust, and mold so it contributes to high indoor air quality.

A variety of finishing techniques can also produce dazzling visual results. Pigments applied to concrete as it cures, or acid-based pigments applied to concrete once it has set, can produce beautiful surfaces that look at home even in formal living spaces. Choose the right contractor and you’ll get concrete that becomes a two-dimensional sculpture on the floor. The trick is to look for an experienced installer, not necessarily someone who specializes in sidewalks and driveways and is trying to learn something new.

Linoleum and Vinyl Floors

Many people refer to sheet vinyl flooring as “linoleum,” a natural mistake. After all, linoleum was widely used until vinyl gradually shouldered it aside. But that’s changing, and linoleum is once again available. It makes a better green flooring choice than vinyl because it’s manufactured with less toxic materials.

While preferable to vinyl from a chemical standpoint, linoleum doesn’t have the same protective surface and must be polished occasionally to resist stains. Manufacturers recommend it be installed professionally. Be prepared for an odor from the linseed oil that off-gasses an aldehyde, which is not toxic for most people and will dissipate.